The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World

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An exhilarating journey of natural renewal through a year with MacArthur fellow Carl Safina

Beginning in his kayak in his home waters of eastern Long Island, Carl Safina's The View from Lazy Point takes us through the four seasons to the four points of the compass, from the high Arctic south to Antarctica, across the warm belly of the tropics from the Caribbean to the west Pacific, then home again. We meet Eskimos whose way of life is melting away, explore a secret global seed ...

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Overview

An exhilarating journey of natural renewal through a year with MacArthur fellow Carl Safina

Beginning in his kayak in his home waters of eastern Long Island, Carl Safina's The View from Lazy Point takes us through the four seasons to the four points of the compass, from the high Arctic south to Antarctica, across the warm belly of the tropics from the Caribbean to the west Pacific, then home again. We meet Eskimos whose way of life is melting away, explore a secret global seed vault hidden above the Arctic Circle, investigate dilemmas facing foraging bears and breeding penguins, and sail to formerly devastated reefs that are resurrecting as fish graze the corals algae-free.

"Each time science tightens a coil in the slack of our understanding," Safina writes, "it elaborates its fundamental discovery: connection."

He shows how problems of the environment drive very real matters of human justice, well-being, and our prospects for peace.

In Safina's hands, nature's continuous renewal points toward our future. His lively stories grant new insights into how our world is changing, and what our response ought to be.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The environment’s glass is half-full for lyrical conservationist Safina (Song for the Blue Ocean)--even though coral reefs are suffocating under seaweed as parrotfish, which normally consume it, are netted to near extinction; penguins are finding less food to forage for as the Antarctic Ocean’s winter sea ice melts earlier and freezes later, reducing the krill they can feed on; and migrating shorebirds are starving because horseshoe crabs have been overhunted and there aren’t enough eggs to fuel the birds’ annual 20,000-mile roundtrip. These are a few of many cause-and-effect calamities addressed in Safina’s compassionate account of both a year of four seasons around his eastern Long Island beachfront home, and his travels that same year to the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Caribbean, and the islands of the Pacific. He leavens the gloom, however, with this perception: “I’m continually struck by how much beauty and vitality the world still holds”--an optimism that suffuses this sensible and sensitive book. Safina reserves his real anger for capitalists, whose predatory practices, he writes at some length, “continually privatize profits and socialize costs,” brazenly fouling the environment. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2012 Orion Book Award

"Safina’s book soars, adding his voice to a small chorus that includes the poet Mary Oliver and the environmentalist David W. Orr.... I had to—and wanted to—read The View from Lazy Point very slowly, allowing myself to digest its wealth of information, to revel in the beauty of Safina’s writing and to absorb fully the implications of his musings.... What a pleasure it is to be asked to stop rushing about and take time to think, to grapple with fundamental questions, and to find such an enlightening, provocative companion for walking and talking—and reading. We can ask no more from those who warn about dark days ahead than that they also awaken us to the miracle of everyday life as they try to illuminate a better path forward."—Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review

"With the spiral of a year as his structure and with what Einstein termed the 'circle of compassion' as his moral compass, MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Safina illuminates the wondrous intricacy and interconnectedness of life in a book of beautifully modulated patterns and gracefully stated imperatives. Safina's exacting descriptions of coral reefs and polar bears, the acidification of the oceans, and melting glaciers are matched by bold observations regarding the consequences of our failure to incorporate knowledge of how nature, the original network, actually works into our now dangerously inadequate economic systems and social institutions.... Safina argues that we must renew the social contract, free ourselves from the politics of greed, and embrace the facts about the still thriving yet endangered, immeasurably precious living world."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)

"Not so much a polemic against anthropogenic climate change as an impression of a world in flux, a lament about the damage caused by overexploitation, pollution and flawed economics, and a call to arms in the cause of hope.... Mr. Safina's writing moves easily from revelatory observation sparked by a flash of bird or splash of fish to passionate, lyrical philosophy. He rails against the concept of growth-based development. He tears into Adam Smith’s thoughts on the benefits of selfishness and argues that defending dirty energy is as morally bankrupt as defending slavery. Mr. Safina rubs away at the chalk circle that 19th-century thinkers drew around humanity to separate it from the natural world."—The Economist

"Captivating.... Each chapter roils with informed, impassioned descriptions of Lazy Point’s abundant wildlife: Loons and terns and red-winged blackbirds, salamanders and harbor seals, frogs and flounders, purple-blossomed beach peas and wax myrtle blooms are just a few of the stars in this ever-changing 'coast of characters.' But Safina’s descriptions are not restricted to Long Island. During the course of the year he journeys to Alaska and Svalbard, Palau and Antarctica, and his reflections at home and abroad range from the sand at his feet to the planet as a whole. Wherever he is, Safina conveys an accumulation of scientific data and analysis in poetic prose."—National Geographic Traveler

"Literate wanderings in a tormented world full of wounds, led by accomplished traveler, writer and Blue Ocean Institute founder Safina ... [Lazy Point] enfolds two contradictory impulses: the one to stay home and tend to one’s garden, and the other to travel the planet and chronicle all the damage we’re doing to it. Safina manages to strike a balance.... [He] combines solid science and excellent storytelling. A superb work of environmental reportage and reflection."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

"The environment's glass is half-full for lyrical conservationist Safina.... An optimism suffuses this sensible and sensitive book."—PW

"As the ecologist Carl Safina points out in his forthcoming book The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, the global economic growth that we've witnessed since the Industrial Revolution has come on the back of ecological destruction. Humans are richer, longer-lived and healthier, but rainforests have been destroyed, species have been driven to extinction and the oceans have been spoiled. The planet is not infinite, and it’s reasonable to wonder just how much we can take from it, just how many people Earth can support."—Bryan Walsh, Time.com

 

"You could call Safina a Thoreau for the 21st century."—Billy Heller, The New York Post

 

"With his grand sense of adventure, eye for beauty, heart for mercy and high hopes to shake us from our complacency, Safina seems a godsend among modern-day prophets. His is a voice worth listening to, and I hope his song hits the top of the charts. People, animals and ways of life are dying all over the world, and some of us really do care."—Alice Evans, The Portland Oregonian

"Safina has a natural ebullience. . . . He relies on beauty for his faith and finds that there is plenty of it."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday

 

"[A] passionate, thoughtful portrait of the 'natural' world.... Its deliberate, steady pace acts like a slow-moving camera capturing the area as animal and ocean life changes month to month, full circle from one January to the next.... Safina’s familiarity and interest in [birds] while walking or fishing on the nearby sound can’t be missed."—Christine Thomas, The Miami Herald

 

"Few have done more for the world’s oceans than Carl Safina. Now he's back with what might be his best book yet.... No mere naturalist's journal, The View from Lazy Point uses wildlife encounters to build a passionate case against market-driven measurements of success."—Bruce Barcott, Outside.com

"Carl Safina’s qualifications as a naturalist, marine biologist, and part-time resident make him the ideal interpreter of The View from Lazy Point, which includes broad prospects of Cartwright Shoals, Gardiner’s Island, and Napeague Bay and also the great variety of wildlife in these coastal and marine habitats; another qualification, of course, is the high quality of his prose, which makes all this fascinating information such a great pleasure to read."—Peter Matthiessen, author of Shadow Country

“What a marvelously large-handed, energetic, omnivorous book! One can swim at so many levels in its comprehensive inventiveness.”—Ted Hoagland, author of Early in the Season

“Carl has written a true masterpiece. The writing is both powerful and poetic, the observations so keen and telling as to shed new light on so many subjects: conservation, ethics, politics, economics, and, well, life. Lazy Point just might become the 21st century's Walden Pond.”—Gary Soucie, former editor of Audubon Magazine

“For Carl Safina—and for us—Lazy Point, a resuscitated shack on a lonely beach at the eastern end of Long Island, is the center of the natural world, and the point from which he travels, literally and figuratively, to the ends of the earth. With Safina as our articulate and sensitive guide, we visit the coral reefs of Belize, the brown bears of Southeast Alaska and the white bears of Svalbard, the fisheries of Micronesia, and the penguin colonies of King George Island, Antarctica. Written by a brilliant stylist and deeply concerned conservationist, this book brings into sharp (and often painful) focus the plight of wildlife in a world largely indifferent to the fate of our fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth. Alive with fresh ideas to help bring our species in sync with the natural world.”—Richard Ellis, author of The Empty Ocean and Tuna: A Love Story

Kirkus Reviews

Literate wanderings in a tormented world full of wounds, led by accomplished traveler, writer and Blue Ocean Institute founder Safina (Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur, 2006, etc.).

"We are not just consumers but citizens, not just citizens but members of a living family, miracles of evolution, manifestations of the awesome mystery of creation, singularly able to perceive and consider the universe, our place in it, and our role." So writes the author, with appropriate reverie but without a trace of treacle, in his latest, which enfolds two contradictory impulses: the one to stay home and tend to one's garden, and the other to travel the planet and chronicle all the damage we're doing to it. Safina manages to strike a balance. In these pages, he spends a good amount of time at home on the easternmost stretches of Long Island, at a boggy, overgrown, insect-rich place long considered "worthless land." Yet, rejecting the closed-in-ness of another beach book, Henry Beston'sThe Outermost House (1928), Safina stretches his legs and makes his way to distant points. One is high up on the Chukchi Sea of northwestern Alaska, where the local people are watching the polar ice melt and the sea level rise, washing away their communities and softening the permafrost. Another is the barrier coral reef off Belize, a disappearing place that makes the author "burdened by foreboding." Along the way, Safina ponders what the planet will look like when, as it's expected to do as early as 2050, the human population grows to nine billion and our resources are strapped even further—for we all like to drive to a well-stocked store, as he notes, and now twice as many of us will be clamoring to do so. Most of the author's arguments, as such, are familiar. The form of his delivery is not, however, combining solid science and excellent storytelling.

A superb work of environmental reportage and reflection.

Dominique Browning
Carl Safina's ambitious new book, The View From Lazy Point, is a series of field reports entwined with a loving meditation on the interconnectedness of nature and humanity. The story he tells is "partly about a kind of heartbreak for a world that remains so vitally unaware of how imperiled it is." But it's also about how, despite the gloomy reports, "the world still sings." Safina's account of "a natural year in an unnatural world" can be harrowing, but its impassioned, informed urgency is also filled with hope, joy and love.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805090406
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/4/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Safina, author of The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur, Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival, Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas, and founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, was named by the Audubon Society one of the leading conservationists of the twentieth century. He's been profiled by The New York Times, and PBS's Bill Moyers. His books and articles have won him a Pew Fellowship, Guggenheim Award, Lannan Literary Award, John Burroughs Medal, and a MacArthur Prize. He lives in Amagansett, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Prelude

I slide a fishing rod into my kayak as birds begin gathering over our bay. They know what's coming. So do I. On many summer afternoons, packs of surfacing Bluefish chase up small fish, drawing excited flocks of diving terns. The terns carry those little fish a few miles to hungry youngsters waiting eagerly on small, unpeopled islands. As it has been for millennia, so it is this very moment.

Having long studied—and sautéed—this aspect of our neighborhood both formally and at leisure, applying both statistical models and garlic as appropriate, I can report that this relationship—prey fish, terns, Bluefish, and me—shows scant sign of failing anytime soon.

The future is by no means doomed. I'm continually struck by how much beauty and vitality the world still holds.

But beauty and vitality isn't the whole story either. In the panic among the fishes and in the frenzying terns, it's also evident that nature has neither sentiment nor mercy. What it does have is life, truth, and logic. And it strives for what it cannot have: an end to danger, an assurance of longevity, a moment's peace, and a comfortable death. It's like us all, because we are natural. What anyone needs to know about mercy, one can learn by watching nature strive, seeing people struggle, and realizing what a compassionate mind could add to the picture. So I'm also struck that we who have named ourselves "wise humans"—Homo sapiens—haven't quite realized that nature, civilization, peace, and human dignity are all facets of the same gemstone, and that abrasion of one tarnishes the whole.

My neighbor's cottage is right on the bay, and where I launch my kayak I find him wading waist-deep with a spade, digging sea-worms for bait. Bob hopes to slide a few porgies into his frying pan by sundown. I ask how the worm digging's going. Squinting against shards of summer light jabbing upward from the water, he says, "S-l-o-w. Even the worms are getting scarcer." He'd earlier commented on the dearth of clams. Just a few years ago we could wade out right here and, using merely our feet to detect buried clams, emerge in an hour lugging four dozen. The hour now yields perhaps half a dozen. Nothing too mysterious; a few too many people from elsewhere, having raked over their spots, found our spot. The whole world has a pretty similar story to tell.

But I don't pretend to speak for the sea-worms or the clams. The voiceless among us got on for hundreds of millions of years without hearing from me.

It's true that a lot was gone by the time I got here, and that worms are waning and clams are counting down. But, there's quite a lot left. Maybe not a lot of clams (though I've found a couple of decent pockets in the harbor, and my neighbor Dennis generously clued me to a heavy set over in—well, I probably shouldn't say), but I mean in general, a lot remains. And some of what had gone has returned. You'll see. As watching those terns and fish and the activities of my human neighbors continually reminds me, the world still brims with the living.

Yet here's the paradox: In the cycle of seasons and the waves of migrating fishes and birds that come and go along my home coast, I still find sanity, solace, and delight, more than a few fresh meals, and the power and resilience of living things; the wider lens of distant horizons, however, reveals people and nature up against trends serious enough to rattle civilization in this century.

This is a chronicle of a year spent partly along local shores, partly exploring the world from polar regions of the Arctic, across the tropics, down into the Antarctic, and home again. In some ways, this could be any year; in some ways, it couldn't be any other.

The world still sings. Yet the warnings are wise. We have lost much, and we're risking much more. Some risks, we see coming. But there are also certainties hurtling our way that we fail to notice. The dinosaurs failed to anticipate the meteoroid that extinguished them. But dinosaurs didn't create their own calamity. Many others don't deserve the calamities we're creating.

We're borrowing heavily from people not yet born. Meanwhile, the framework with which we run our lives and our world—our philosophy, ethics, religion, and economics—can't seem to detect the risks we're running. How could they? They're ancient and medieval institutions, out of sync with what we've learned in the last century about how the world really works.

So, how to proceed? I've come to see that the geometry of human progress is an expanding circle of compassion. And that nature and human dignity require each other. And I believe that—if the word "sacred" means anything at all—the world exists as the one truly sacred place. Simple things, right?

As we walk the shores and launch our travels, several axes of possibility—evidence, ignorance, indifference, and compassion—will form the north, south, east, and west upon which we'll plot our course.

Amagansett, Long Island

June 2010

The View from Lazy Point

My dog, Kenzie, a fifty-pound black wolf—more or less—goes loping along the shore as is her custom, energetically invested in the obvious truth that all adventure lies at the tip of one's nose. The familiar is always also the exotic, and if you can detect the scent and follow it, it'll take you far. And soon, as always, she's way ahead.

Today we woke to glass-calm water. The Sound is stretched taut to the far points of land. Out across the open water, the sea melds with hazy air and blends skyward without horizon. On a morning this placid and beautiful, dying and going to heaven wouldn't be worth it.

A few years ago, I became the "owner" of a beach cottage that had fallen into such disrepair that I could afford it. One can own an apartment or a condo or a suburban home, but when a place is already old, and if it sits amid dune grass and wild Beach Plums, and a box turtle comes confidently seeking the blackberries it has known about for decades, you feel—at least I feel—like the property has many owners and I'm just the newest tenant.

As much as I admire Henry Beston's classic The Outermost House, this is not a story about getting a little place out past the edge of the world and finding one's self in the solitude and the peace. This story is, though, partly about going home, about immersing in rhythms that come naturally. As a kid I'd stalk shallow waters with a net in my hand, captivated by shadows of tiny sand-colored fishes fanning away from me. Despite added detail and time, I'm still the minnow-chasing boy.

But this story's also partly about a kind of heartbreak for a world that remains so vitally unaware of how imperiled it is. The more I sense the miracle, the more intense appears the tragedy. The only way to feel better, then, is to appreciate less, which would of course feel worse. Let's put a positive spin on it and say that for now the miracle is winning.

So this story is also about the tension created when those things mistakenly called "the real world"—though they are entirely artificial—continually intrude on the real real world. In a real place, the mysteries of ages pile thick with enduring truths and complex beauties.

And that's why I was looking for a house. I'd hoped to find a home in a certain fishing village. Well, the fishing village was turning into a resort, with prices to match. The next town was long since unaffordable, too. So one day I ended up down a road through a marsh popular with mosquitoes, looking at a dilapidated summer cottage with no windows and a square hole in the roof with no skylight. It was bright—and certainly airy—but humidity posed a problem. Some of the inner walls had been torn from the studs, freeing a bloom of insulation and leaving exposed wires in a puddle under the skylight hole. Better houses have been demolished. I wisely dismissed that house as a wreck, out of the question.

I walked across the street, over the dune, and got a glimpse of the water. A five-minute beach walk took me to where a broad, shallow bay communicates with the Sound through a deep, fast-flowing channel about as wide as I might be able to cast a heavy lure. Even in the late winter, when I first laid eyes on it, I could see that this channel would be fishy in springtime. The house said I'd be crazy. The place said I was home.

It's called Lazy Point. I've been told the name derives from ne'er-do-well baymen who'd come to squat on worthless land. Whether or not that's true, I don't much care; I like the name.

In summer the place is idyllic; it can make anyone lazy. But in winter it takes effort to get comfortable with the gales. I once read that the incessant howl of wind on the prairie could drive settlers mad. I couldn't really understand how—until my first winter alone at Lazy Point.

The cottages sit on a flat peninsula of scrubby pines between the Sound and the bay. That fishy channel I mentioned; I call it "the Cut." Along the bay's south shore runs the railroad, then the main road—two lanes—then high dunes, then the sandy ocean beach that continues on for miles. In winter it's deserted and I have it to myself. We call the ocean beach "the south side." And beyond the ocean: more ocean to the blue horizon, beyond that to the edge of the continental shelf—under six hundred feet of water—and then the deep sea, the Gulf Stream, and the rest of the world. You can feel it.

The harbor village is about five miles east; another six miles and you get to Montauk Point, a defiantly reared-up, jutting jaw of land—exposed to the open ocean on the south, and exposed on the north to the full-face force of all nor'easters. Forming the break between New England and the Mid-Atlantic, it's the southernmost rocky beach on the entire East Coast. We call this extremity simply "the Point."

None other than Walt Whitman enjoyed the exact same spot: "The eastern end of Long Island, and the Peconic bay region, I knew quite well—sail'd more than once around Shelter Island, and down to Montauk—spent many an hour on Turtle hill by the old light-house, on the extreme point, looking out over the ceaseless roll of the Atlantic. I used to like to go down there and fraternize with the blue-fishers, or the annual squads of sea-bass takers." Well, a century-plus later, "the blue-fishers and bass-takers" includes me.

With its headland, lighthouse, bluffs, buffeting breezes, surging tides, and crashing waves, this is a place of real power. All the energy draws and holds great numbers of seabirds and other ocean life. It is a great cauldron of vitality.

In the circle of a year you may see around here everything ranging from Arctic seals whose summer home is Canadian pack ice to tropical reef fishes that have ridden up from the Caribbean in flickering tongues of warm water. Some, like the terns that often lead me to dinner, breed here. Others, like harlequin-costumed Ruddy Turnstones, migrate right on through. Sometimes, thousands of miles from home, I run into migrants I'd last seen here at home.

They all remind me that the world is both much bigger than Lazy Point and yet surprisingly small. "I have traveled a great deal in Concord," reported Henry David Thoreau. And how much greater might he have thought his travels if he'd lived at Lazy Point instead. The coast and its migrants bring to Lazy Point a much bigger picture than any map of the place suggests. I sometimes tell friends it's possible to see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point.

Excerpted from The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina

Copyright 2010 by Carl Safina

Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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First Chapter

The View from Lazy Point

A Natural Year in an Unnatural World
By Carl Safina

Henry Holt and Co.

Copyright © 2011 Carl Safina
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805090406

Prelude

I slide a fishing rod into my kayak as birds begin gathering over our bay. They know what's coming. So do I. On many summer afternoons, packs of surfacing Bluefish chase up small fish, drawing excited flocks of diving terns. The terns carry those little fish a few miles to hungry youngsters waiting eagerly on small, unpeopled islands. As it has been for millennia, so it is this very moment.

Having long studied—and sautéed—this aspect of our neighborhood both formally and at leisure, applying both statistical models and garlic as appropriate, I can report that this relationship—prey fish, terns, Bluefish, and me—shows scant sign of failing anytime soon.

The future is by no means doomed. I'm continually struck by how much beauty and vitality the world still holds.

But beauty and vitality isn't the whole story either. In the panic among the fishes and in the frenzying terns, it's also evident that nature has neither sentiment nor mercy. What it does have is life, truth, and logic. And it strives for what it cannot have: an end to danger, an assurance of longevity, a moment's peace, and a comfortable death. It's like us all, because we are natural. What anyone needs to know about mercy, one can learn by watching nature strive, seeing people struggle, and realizing what a compassionate mind could add to the picture. So I'm also struck that we who have named ourselves "wise humans"—Homo sapiens—haven't quite realized that nature, civilization, peace, and human dignity are all facets of the same gemstone, and that abrasion of one tarnishes the whole.

My neighbor's cottage is right on the bay, and where I launch my kayak I find him wading waist-deep with a spade, digging sea-worms for bait. Bob hopes to slide a few porgies into his frying pan by sundown. I ask how the worm digging's going. Squinting against shards of summer light jabbing upward from the water, he says, "S-l-o-w. Even the worms are getting scarcer." He'd earlier commented on the dearth of clams. Just a few years ago we could wade out right here and, using merely our feet to detect buried clams, emerge in an hour lugging four dozen. The hour now yields perhaps half a dozen. Nothing too mysterious; a few too many people from elsewhere, having raked over their spots, found our spot. The whole world has a pretty similar story to tell.

But I don't pretend to speak for the sea-worms or the clams. The voiceless among us got on for hundreds of millions of years without hearing from me.

It's true that a lot was gone by the time I got here, and that worms are waning and clams are counting down. But, there's quite a lot left. Maybe not a lot of clams (though I've found a couple of decent pockets in the harbor, and my neighbor Dennis generously clued me to a heavy set over in—well, I probably shouldn't say), but I mean in general, a lot remains. And some of what had gone has returned. You'll see. As watching those terns and fish and the activities of my human neighbors continually reminds me, the world still brims with the living.

Yet here's the paradox: In the cycle of seasons and the waves of migrating fishes and birds that come and go along my home coast, I still find sanity, solace, and delight, more than a few fresh meals, and the power and resilience of living things; the wider lens of distant horizons, however, reveals people and nature up against trends serious enough to rattle civilization in this century.

This is a chronicle of a year spent partly along local shores, partly exploring the world from polar regions of the Arctic, across the tropics, down into the Antarctic, and home again. In some ways, this could be any year; in some ways, it couldn't be any other.

The world still sings. Yet the warnings are wise. We have lost much, and we're risking much more. Some risks, we see coming. But there are also certainties hurtling our way that we fail to notice. The dinosaurs failed to anticipate the meteoroid that extinguished them. But dinosaurs didn't create their own calamity. Many others don't deserve the calamities we're creating.

We're borrowing heavily from people not yet born. Meanwhile, the framework with which we run our lives and our world—our philosophy, ethics, religion, and economics—can't seem to detect the risks we're running. How could they? They're ancient and medieval institutions, out of sync with what we've learned in the last century about how the world really works.

So, how to proceed? I've come to see that the geometry of human progress is an expanding circle of compassion. And that nature and human dignity require each other. And I believe that—if the word "sacred" means anything at all—the world exists as the one truly sacred place. Simple things, right?

As we walk the shores and launch our travels, several axes of possibility—evidence, ignorance, indifference, and compassion—will form the north, south, east, and west upon which we'll plot our course.

Amagansett, Long Island
June 2010

 

 

The View from Lazy Point

My dog, Kenzie, a fifty-pound black wolf—more or less—goes loping along the shore as is her custom, energetically invested in the obvious truth that all adventure lies at the tip of one's nose. The familiar is always also the exotic, and if you can detect the scent and follow it, it'll take you far. And soon, as always, she's way ahead.

Today we woke to glass-calm water. The Sound is stretched taut to the far points of land. Out across the open water, the sea melds with hazy air and blends skyward without horizon. On a morning this placid and beautiful, dying and going to heaven wouldn't be worth it.

A few years ago, I became the "owner" of a beach cottage that had fallen into such disrepair that I could afford it. One can own an apartment or a condo or a suburban home, but when a place is already old, and if it sits amid dune grass and wild Beach Plums, and a box turtle comes confidently seeking the blackberries it has known about for decades, you feel—at least I feel—like the property has many owners and I'm just the newest tenant.

As much as I admire Henry Beston's classic The Outermost House, this is not a story about getting a little place out past the edge of the world and finding one's self in the solitude and the peace. This story is, though, partly about going home, about immersing in rhythms that come naturally. As a kid I'd stalk shallow waters with a net in my hand, captivated by shadows of tiny sand-colored fishes fanning away from me. Despite added detail and time, I'm still the minnow-chasing boy.

But this story's also partly about a kind of heartbreak for a world that remains so vitally unaware of how imperiled it is. The more I sense the miracle, the more intense appears the tragedy. The only way to feel better, then, is to appreciate less, which would of course feel worse. Let's put a positive spin on it and say that for now the miracle is winning.

So this story is also about the tension created when those things mistakenly called "the real world"—though they are entirely artificial—continually intrude on the real real world. In a real place, the mysteries of ages pile thick with enduring truths and complex beauties.

And that's why I was looking for a house. I'd hoped to find a home in a certain fishing village. Well, the fishing village was turning into a resort, with prices to match. The next town was long since unaffordable, too. So one day I ended up down a road through a marsh popular with mosquitoes, looking at a dilapidated summer cottage with no windows and a square hole in the roof with no skylight. It was bright—and certainly airy—but humidity posed a problem. Some of the inner walls had been torn from the studs, freeing a bloom of insulation and leaving exposed wires in a puddle under the skylight hole. Better houses have been demolished. I wisely dismissed that house as a wreck, out of the question.

I walked across the street, over the dune, and got a glimpse of the water. A five-minute beach walk took me to where a broad, shallow bay communicates with the Sound through a deep, fast-flowing channel about as wide as I might be able to cast a heavy lure. Even in the late winter, when I first laid eyes on it, I could see that this channel would be fishy in springtime. The house said I'd be crazy. The place said I was home.

It's called Lazy Point. I've been told the name derives from ne'er-do-well baymen who'd come to squat on worthless land. Whether or not that's true, I don't much care; I like the name.

In summer the place is idyllic; it can make anyone lazy. But in winter it takes effort to get comfortable with the gales. I once read that the incessant howl of wind on the prairie could drive settlers mad. I couldn't really understand how—until my first winter alone at Lazy Point.

The cottages sit on a flat peninsula of scrubby pines between the Sound and the bay. That fishy channel I mentioned; I call it "the Cut." Along the bay's south shore runs the railroad, then the main road—two lanes—then high dunes, then the sandy ocean beach that continues on for miles. In winter it's deserted and I have it to myself. We call the ocean beach "the south side." And beyond the ocean: more ocean to the blue horizon, beyond that to the edge of the continental shelf—under six hundred feet of water—and then the deep sea, the Gulf Stream, and the rest of the world. You can feel it.

The harbor village is about five miles east; another six miles and you get to Montauk Point, a defiantly reared-up, jutting jaw of land—exposed to the open ocean on the south, and exposed on the north to the full-face force of all nor'easters. Forming the break between New England and the Mid-Atlantic, it's the southernmost rocky beach on the entire East Coast. We call this extremity simply "the Point."

None other than Walt Whitman enjoyed the exact same spot: "The eastern end of Long Island, and the Peconic bay region, I knew quite well—sail'd more than once around Shelter Island, and down to Montauk—spent many an hour on Turtle hill by the old light-house, on the extreme point, looking out over the ceaseless roll of the Atlantic. I used to like to go down there and fraternize with the blue-fishers, or the annual squads of sea-bass takers." Well, a century-plus later, "the blue-fishers and bass-takers" includes me.

With its headland, lighthouse, bluffs, buffeting breezes, surging tides, and crashing waves, this is a place of real power. All the energy draws and holds great numbers of seabirds and other ocean life. It is a great cauldron of vitality.

In the circle of a year you may see around here everything ranging from Arctic seals whose summer home is Canadian pack ice to tropical reef fishes that have ridden up from the Caribbean in flickering tongues of warm water. Some, like the terns that often lead me to dinner, breed here. Others, like harlequin-costumed Ruddy Turnstones, migrate right on through. Sometimes, thousands of miles from home, I run into migrants I'd last seen here at home.

They all remind me that the world is both much bigger than Lazy Point and yet surprisingly small. "I have traveled a great deal in Concord," reported Henry David Thoreau. And how much greater might he have thought his travels if he'd lived at Lazy Point instead. The coast and its migrants bring to Lazy Point a much bigger picture than any map of the place suggests. I sometimes tell friends it's possible to see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point.

Excerpted from The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina
Copyright 2010 by Carl Safina
Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.



Continues...

Excerpted from The View from Lazy Point by Carl Safina Copyright © 2011 by Carl Safina. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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